What is genius and are you a genius? The former is easier to answer than the latter. Silicon Valley, Athens, Vienna, Kolkata, Edinburgh, Hangzhou and Florence are all considered to be places of genius at some point in human history. Is genius a personal trait or is it cultural?
Eric Weiner tries to answer all these questions in his new book “The Geography of Genius”. In summary, genius is very much the product of culture. You get the geniuses you deserve, it has been said. Whatever is valued in a society thrives in that society. Silicon Valley values entrepreneurship and sure it gets but how did it start valuing entrepreneurship in the first place?
We met Eric at Google in January and he answered several of these questions. For starters, a place like Silicon Valley is initiated by several small steps.
If we look at Silicon Valley’s history, several names come to mind- Leland Stanford, Terman, Shockley and the Traitorous Eight. Leland Stanford established Stanford in the memory of his son who had died at 15. Terman started the practical education movement and tried the first cross-pollination of Stanford and industry (encouraging H & P to stat HP from a garage). Shockley came back to his hometown Palo Alto to be close to his ailing Mom starting Shockley Semiconductors. The traitorous eight were recruited by Shockley but later started companies like Fairchild Semiconductors and Intel, pushing Silicon Valley to the forefront of technology.That attracted more talent to the Valley and the Valley kept growing in the positive feedback loop. So, genius is the product of culture.
But genius needs expertise and the capacity and grit to create expertise is a mixture of genetic, psychological and cultural phenomenon. A fine balance of hardships and opportunities helps in shaping the geniuses. All luxury creates complacence and “only” hardships with no security breaks confidence.
For the final question of whether you are a genius or not- unfortunately, it is not for you to decide. Genius is reserved for the society which based on good or bad judgement anoints this title to some of its members. Usually, the criteria are impact, timelessness and novelty of the work! Go figure!!!
So, what if you decided one day that you want to be a genius. Here are a few things you can do:
- Build Expertise: Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers suggests a 10,000 hour rule. If you put 10,000 hours in any activity, you will undoubtedly be an expert. You don’t need to necessarily spend 10,000 hours but getting great at doing something is important if you are eyeing that envious title.
- Create and Deliver Products and Services: Keeping the skill and expertise to yourself is not going to help influence the opinion of the society about your genius. You have to share it with the world to be acknowledged as a genius. Imagine, Einstein not writing all those publications or Edison not writing all those patents.
- Create impact: Just creating and delivering random products and services is not going to fit the bill. You need to create an impact on the society.
- On a lighter note, die early: Posthumously getting acknowledged has higher probability than in your lifetime.